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Ruck looming over rugby pitches in Alresford
8:00am Thursday 7th March 2013 in News
A MAJOR investment in sport in Alresford could be in jeopardy after space purchased for rugby pitches was found to be too small.
Alresford Rugby Club must start building the two pitches at Arlebury Park by June otherwise it will lose grants from Sport England and the Rugby Football Union towards the £167,000 scheme.
But the club has said that the 3.8 acres set aside at Arlebury are too small and it wants to use land earmarked for general public use.
Town councillors are unhappy the club has told it the land that the council purchased for it last year is insufficient.
The town council must decide if it is to help the club with more land to make the playing area big enough. The council meets on Thursday March 14 to discuss the issue.
Town councillor Roy Gentry is angry that five years’ work on organising the land acquisition from landowner Rodney Morgan-Giles is now in peril.
Cllr Gentry said: “We purchased land enough for one pitch and a small training area. Now the club wants two full-sized international-size rugby pitches.
“In January 2012 we sat down with the rugby fraternity and there was no question that 3.8 acres was sufficient. Last November the rugby club, which seemed to have been asleep for two years, suddenly decided they wanted more.
“The RFU has refused to communicate with the town council despite repeated requests from us for an outline plan.”
Mr Gentry said he was unsure if the town council would support the club and he personally doubted if it would be able to get the required planning permission in time to start before the June deadline.
He said: “My view is we presented to the town council, the city council and the residents that we were going to purchase 3.8 acres and 3.18 for general amenity. I don’t think we can go back on that position and cannot go back without another public meeting. I think the rugby club have let down their members, let down the town and let down the town council.”
Club president Hugh Ogus said: “I dispute Mr Gentry’s version of events. He miscalculated the amount of land needed. We always wanted two rugby pitches. He was the only member of the recreation committee to vote against taking this to the full town council.”
Chris Day, rugby club chairman, said: “I am very disappointed and concerned Mr Gentry has made these comments and refute the suggestion. The club has been working extremely hard, with the town council, towards the development of two rugby pitches within Alresford town.
“I do not accept this is anyone's fault merely that due to levelling required for the two pitches the land purchased is not quite big enough. NATC have leased the remainder of the West Field for recreation purposes and a portion of this land can be used.
With regards to the communications; the project and funding applications were in the NATC name, as they were purchasing the land, and I understand Mr Gentry completed all negotiations and purchasing discussions with the landowner. Unfortunately the 3.8 acres purchased is insufficient for two pitches and hence the Rugby Club is continuing to work with NATC for an alternative solution to resolve this opportunity.”
Regarding the June 30 deadline Mr Day added: “The RFU have very kindly extended its funding allocation deadline from March 31 to June 30, for a viable scheme to proceed. The RFU has also compromised on its security of tenure requirement from 25 to 15 years to meet with the lease term negotiated. If we cannot meet the June deadline then we would lose this current opportunity and would have to seek replacement funding which could take years and have no guarantee of success.”
In a statement, the club said: “The funding for the scheme is essentially in place for which we must thank the Rugby Football Union, Sport England and especially the town council. However, unless the project gets underway within the next four months this is under threat of withdrawal.
“At present the club, the Recreation Committee and NATC (town council) are in further communication with the Winchester City Council and I don’t wish to upset these.
“Essentially, on account of the following a small amount of extra council land is required:
* the nature of the topography of the land purchased by NATC,
* the consequent necessity for the agreed two pitches to be on different levels,
* associated health and safety issues,
* access for construction and the public for dog walks.”
A potential complicating factor is that the additional land that the club wants to use is only available on a 15-year lease, below the required 25 years that the RFU needs as a condition of its grant.